Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372
Themes in A Friend of the Earth include environmental awareness, identity, and death. These themes are explored in the life of Tyrone Tierwater, an environmental activist.
The theme of environmental awareness is clear and present throughout the novel. The earth has changed and is dying all around the characters. Animals, plants, and food aren't as readily available as they once were. The weather is dangerous and changeable. Ty, his second wife Andrea, and his daughter Sierra are all environmental activists who use extreme methods to raise public awareness. At one point, Ty and Andrea live in the forest with no clothes or supplies for a month to make people more aware of how important the environment is. Sierra lives in a redwood tree for three years to try to prevent deforestation.
Despite their work, the world isn't convinced and things continue to get worse well into Ty's old age.
Another theme in the book is identity. Tyrone isn't an activist in the beginning—but by the time he gets involved with Andrea and Earth First!, it becomes a cornerstone of his identity. He is unable to pull himself away even when it means that he violates his parole by damaging property and has to return to prison for four years. He loses his daughter and his life because of his extreme identification with environmental activism. Once he's out of jail, he finds that his daughter is even more extreme than he was. She's a vegan who lives—and ultimately dies—trying to prevent deforestation. After she dies, Ty once again loses his identity and ages, working as a caretaker on the estate of an older rock star. When Andrea reappears, he once again gets involved with activism.
The theme of death is also explored. Ty's first wife and daughter both die in nature-related incidents. Jane dies while camping when she's stung by a bee. Sierra dies falling out of a redwood she's been trying to save. At the end of the book, many people are also killed by lions that they have been trying to save. These deaths each affect Ty in different ways—he loves his daughter, but she becomes a martyr to the movement he also cares about, for example.
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